This electronic book (e-book) is about the theology of missions. Its basis is an Old Testament character named Jonah, a man whose story is often used to teach obedience. These 10 short chapters reflect on what Jonah's story has to say about God's desire that the entire world be evangelized.
God wants us to be in tune with Him
My wife, Barbara, and I spent 10 years as missionaries in Italy. On several occasions we heard people mention Christianity's long history there. They would sometimes ask us: "So, why have you come?"
Good question. While there aren't many Protestant churches in Italy, we saw Roman Catholic church buildings everywhere. I once visited Calatafimi, a little village on the island of Sicily. That Italian village has less than 5,000 people. Yet, it has 17 Roman Catholic churches (and one little Nazarene one). The number of Catholic churches there was far above average for that size of a village in Italy. Still, I understand why people wondered what we Nazarene missionaries were doing in a country with such a long Christian heritage.
Barbara and I offered ourselves for missionary service because we felt God's call to cross-cultural ministry. We went to Italy because the Church of the Nazarene asked us to begin the fulfillment of our missionary call there. Behind all of that, however, was the missionary character of God Himself. Because most Italians were baptized as babies in Roman Catholic Churches, they call themselves Christian. Sadly, active participation in any church ranges from a low of 10% of Northern Italy's population to a high of 30% in the south. Even those Italians who were faithful in religious ritual have rarely found inner peace or true shalom. God yearns to reconcile those Italians to Himself. We believe that's why God opened the doors for us to give ten years of our lives to witnessing, preaching and teaching in Italy.
Jonah understood some things about God's character. Sadly, however, his heart was out of tune with the Lord's. The things that broke the Lord's heart did not break Jonah's. Not only was Jonah out of tune with God, at times he wasn't even playing the same song as God. What about us? Does our heart resonate with the Lord's? Do the things that break His heart break ours? If not, we're no more than a band of Jonahs!
John Wesley was one whose heart ached to resonate with the Lord's, but he struggled with getting that to happen. First, he tried living a holy life in his own strength. At Oxford University, Wesley, along with his brother and some friends, was so diligent in his devotional and spiritual life that other students at the university made fun of him by nicknaming him and his friends the "Holy Club." In spite of what Wesley was doing religiously, he still felt a void inside. Thinking to remedy that he went to America as a missionary to the Indians. Being a missionary seemed to him like the ultimate sacrifice. He wasn't exactly like Jonah in the sense that he was running from God's call. Still, Wesley did not have his heart in tune with his Creator.
As Wesley crossed the Atlantic ocean, his ship ran into a storm. That little wooden ship was tossed around so much that Wesley feared for his life. Among the passengers was a group of lay Christians. They were Moravians, part of a lay organization which sent out the first Protestant missionaries. This group on that ship with Wesley were also on their way to evangelize the New World. During that storm these Moravians faced death with a quiet fearlessness. Wesley was both impressed and humiliated. Those Moravians had a deep, calm assurance which he had not found despite diligently following religious ritual.
Eventually, the ship did land safely at Savannah, Georgia. There, while Wesley tried to evangelize the Indians he also probed for the source of the Moravians' inner peace. One day, the Moravian leader, Spangenberg, asked Wesley: "Do you know Jesus Christ?"
Stunned at the man's audacity, Wesley, who was a Church of England priest and former Oxford University professor, stammered out: "I know he is the Savior of the world."
Spangenberg countered: "True, but do you know that He has saved you?"
After brushing off the question, Wesley spent an unfruitful three years evangelizing the Indians. When he returned to London, he began attending a Moravian Bible study. One night, while listening to someone reading aloud in the group from Martin Luther's introduction to Romans, Wesley felt his heart "strangely warmed." It was the witness of the Spirit he had longed for. Up to that point John Wesley had expended a great deal of energy trying to do what God wanted. But Wesley's disciplined spiritual exercises had not brought him inner peace. Outward conformity is not what God wants. He wants our heart to beat in tune with His. In that Bible study meeting in London Wesley finally came to know God intimately. When that happened, he too became intensely evangelistic and missionary.
Jonah didn't want to go to Nineveh. He was not at all in tune with the missionary heart of God. The spiritual hardness of his heart did soften temporarily when he was inside the fish. Jonah didn't have the missionary heart of God, who has reached out and is reaching out. It isn't Jonah's disobedience that makes him such a tragic figure. Rather, it's the callous way in which he finally does obey.
Unfortunately, the spirit of Jonah is alive today, permeating the ranks of God's people. I've heard local church leaders grumble that taking a nickel or dime of each church dollar to spend on world evangelism saps too much of the local church's financial resources. Such "me first and foremost" thinking sounds far more like Jonah than God. Others complain about sending resources to evangelize the whole world while there are still many unsaved people in the U.S. Doesn't that also sound like Jonah? It's certainly not something from the heart of God.
God's compassionate mercy toward Nineveh does not mean He blindly tolerates sinful behavior. Before they repented, the Ninevites faced a sentence of destruction. It is clear, therefore, that great cities, like great men, can fall under God's judgment. Still, God yearns to deal mercifully and kindly with us. This amazing story reveals a divine tenderness that reaches out to both Nineveh and Jonah. God's heart is a missionary heart. If we were in His place we probably wouldn't put up with either Jonah or Nineveh.
"Can a good God send anyone to hell?" some ask. No. Indeed, He's trying not to. God freely offers salvation to the likes of both Jonah and Nineveh. He has a magnanimous, missionary heart. He doesn't "send" anyone to hell. It's a choice each individual makes for himself/herself.
As our heart becomes aligned with God's heart, we will find ourselves becoming ever more missionary. Great prayer warriors have always been intensely missionary. As I think about the godly people I've known, almost all carry a heavy burden for world evangelism. On the campus of Southern Nazarene University, the group that promoted prayer the most was called World Christian Fellowship.
On the other hand, spiritual shallowness dims our sensitivity. We'll not sense God's missionary heart. A spiritual shallowness makes far too many Christians think of God like a celestial Santa Claus. Like Jonah, they miss the boat. God is not a Santa Claus; He is a missionary! He doesn't come offering gifts. He comes offering Himself. If we take Him, we must become intensely missionary, reaching out to the unreached Ninevehs of our day.